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Garden helps mental healing

New peaceful space at Victoria General

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The Victoria General Hospital Foundation's Rena Molinari (right), Leona MacDonald (centre) and Charlene Rocke in the garden.

SARAH TAYLOR / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Victoria General Hospital Foundation's Rena Molinari (right), Leona MacDonald (centre) and Charlene Rocke in the garden. Photo Store

They're calling it the Miracle Garden at the Victoria General Hospital -- part of a new wave of holistic health care spreading across North America -- where staff and patients can breathe in some fresh air, hear the flow of the water wall and literally stop and smell the roses.

Or perhaps contemplate something other than why you're wearing a patient bracelet in the first place.

The garden, which will officially open today, cost the Victoria General Hospital Foundation $1.9 million -- all private funds but for $140,000 in provincial and city grants. Foundation executive director Charlene Rocke is confident the garden is an "investment."

"It's inspirational," Rocke said. "I think it's more lasting, too. Pieces of equipment become obsolete with all the advances in technology. This should be here 30, 40 years -- as long as the hospital is here. And it will have an impact all along."

Healing or restoration gardens are becoming more commonplace, especially in U.S. hospitals. The Victoria garden is the first of its kind in Manitoba, although other city hospitals have begun to establish green spaces on their property.

Healthy-living spaces in hospital designs go back to the Middle Ages. However, modern urban hospitals absorbed surrounding property over the years with expansions and parking lots, in most cases.

The Miracle Garden isn't vast, by any means, but contains a walking path and small playground. There are herbs, roses, birch trees and healing plants. "Everything that could go in was put in, and in strategic places," Rocke said. "It was designed to appeal to all your senses."

The Victoria's chief medical officer, Dr. Mary-Jane Seager, said published research, such as in the New England Journal of Medicine, has long advocated concepts such as healing by design.

"In Winnipeg, it's a new, novel, exciting thing," Seager said. "It's a space that people will enjoy rather than sitting outside watching an ambulance go by or try to find a space away from the smokers.

"We've seen papers and evidence that say it makes a difference," Seager added. "The concept of the mind and healing and healthy living is getting more and more into medicine."

But not without some obvious questions: Is it really anything that's going to help anybody, other than be a nice place? Or, did you say $1.9 million? What are you planting anyway?

However, Rena Molinari, the foundation's director of development, said while it might be impossible to quantify the effects a space has on health outcomes, the new environment's emotional affect has been immediate.

"It's amazing to see the smiles on their faces," Molinari said.

Molinari is referring to both staff and patients, the latter already asking if they can get their chemo treatments in the garden (they can't, unfortunately).

"A lot of patients here have been marvelling about what's going on," said Karen Stolz, a nurse at the hospital's Buhler Cancer Centre. "It's bright and cheery. Who wants to get treatment in a basement with no windows or light? It's a nice distraction."

Foundation board member Leona MacDonald noted the garden is not only for patients, staff and families, but it will be open to the public. "It's for everybody," she said. "It's not only healthy, but preventive."

Prior to 2008, Victoria's chemotherapy treatment was given in a basement, only a fraction of the size of the $10.5-million Buhler Centre, which opened in late 2008. That's where Chris Lebitt, who had been diagnosed with a form of lymphoma, first began his rounds of chemo.

"Very confined. All white walls," Lebitt said, of the old facility.

Now, patients can receive treatment in rooms adjacent to the outside garden.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2014 B4

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